Breast Cancer Screening

Demystifying Mammograms: Answers to All Your Pressing Breast Exam Questions

December 21, 2021

Whether it’s your first mammogram or your 20th, there’s probably something you’ve been wanting to know about your breast exam.

We don’t blame you… Breasts can feel like an awkward thing to discuss. On our Facebook page, we answer hundreds of these questions every month. We’re answering the seven most frequently asked questions from our online community.

How do breast mammograms work?

Mammograms use low-energy x-rays to examine breast tissue for screening and diagnosis. Because these x-rays don’t go through tissue easily, the machine has two plates that compress or flatten the breast to spread the tissue apart. This produces a clearer image of your breasts1. Learn more here.

What’s the difference between 2D and 3D mammograms?

If you’ve had a conventional 2D mammogram before, you’ll find the experience comparable to 3D™ mammography exams. 3D mammograms also use compression and low-energy x-rays, but it produces many image “slices” to create a three-dimensional picture.2 A more detailed view means doctors can see the tissue from multiple angles, reducing the need for call backs3 or extra testing if anything unusual is found.

Having a more detailed image can also be helpful for women with dense breasts or more glandular and fibrous tissue compared to fatty tissue. That’s because lesions and lumps can be obscured by dense tissue on a 2D mammogram, making cancers harder to spot.

Why do they have to squeeze my breasts?

We know, we know. We get this one a lot. Breasts come in different shapes and sizes. Volume and fullness mean overlapping tissue, which can be an issue in getting a clear picture of your breasts’ health. Compression—or squishing—spreads out the tissue, allowing radiologists to see and detect abnormalities that might be hidden.4 If the breast is not well compressed, overlapping tissue can look like a mass or anomaly, which might mean getting called back for more imaging.

That unpleasant squeezing feeling has a purpose too. Accidental movement, like breathing, can result in unclear or blurry images.5 Definitely not what you want when you’re checking for breast cancer. Compression reduces that motion so that images can be as clear as possible.

How do I request the Genius® 3D Mammography™ exam?

There are over 8,000 3D™ mammography machines in use around the country, which means it’s easier than ever to find one in your area. To get started, head over to the finder page and enter your zip code. From there, you’ll have a facility list sent to your email or view it on your phone to get directions. You may notice that the facility or doctor’s office that you already go to is listed. You’ll need to go to the facility’s website or call to book an appointment, especially if you’re a new patient.

When talking to the receptionist, make sure to specify that you want a 3D™ mammogram. When you confirm your breast screening appointment, you can also request to receive a Genius® 3D Mammography™ exam if it’s offered at your doctor’s office. Use this checklist to make sure that’s what you’re getting. Be sure to set your mammogram reminder.

Who needs a mammogram?

The most recent guidelines6 from the American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging recommend annual screening beginning at age 40 for women at average risk. You should continue your routine annual mammograms, even as you age. Unless severe health problems limit your ability to get screened, women 75 and older should continue getting screened to detect anomalies as early as possible. Visit this resource for a full list of guidelines.

What should I expect during my appointment?

When you arrive at the facility, the staff will direct you to an imaging room to disrobe from the waist up and wear a hospital gown. Remember to put the opening in the front!

During the exam, just you and a technologist will be in the room. They’ll position your breasts one at a time in between two surfaces, which will apply pressure while taking the x-ray images. The technician will take two sets of images for each breast.7 This includes a craniocaudal view, where the beam captures a top-down image of the breast, and a mediolateral view, which captures the breast’s side profile. Even if you feel like a contortionist for a few seconds, it’s important to relax your body as much as possible.8 With a Genius® 3D™ exam, the positioning and compressions are similar to traditional mammograms, but the result is multiple images in a less than 4-second9 scan time.*

How much does a mammogram cost?

Medicare and a growing number of insurance companies cover the Genius® 3D™ exam, however, the cost varies from facility to facility. The Affordable Care Act requires that health plans fully cover the cost of a screening mammogram every one or two years10 for women over 40. We always encourage all women to check with your insurance provider to see if your plan covers the Genius® exam.

If you don’t have access to free breast screening, many organizations can help! Rad-Aid Breast Imaging offers free health screening and diagnostic services for low-income and underserved women. It has opened many mammogram sites, in partnership with Hologic, across the country to help improve breast cancer outcomes and survival rates.


Disclaimer: This article is for informational use only and is not intended for or implied to be a substitute for medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your health care professional for any question you may have regarding medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Information found from public sources, such as public websites, customer feedback, company manuals and data from customers and trade shows, as of 01/03/2022. Hologic cannot verify the completeness of accuracy of this information.